All the number plate formats used in UK since 1903

Number plates have been used on British roads since the passing of the Motor Car Act 1903. However, over the past century, the country has used six different number plate formats on vehicles, usually due to sequence exhaustion. Let’s take a look at the five previous formats used in UK (excluding those used for private plate).


1. Local Prefix System (1904 – 1932)


The local prefix system was the first format introduced in the UK. It was based on a similar system used in the Netherlands. The format is comprised of six characters, consisting of two letters indicating the registration location, followed by a random combination of four numbers, e.g., AA 1234. This format would allow each location to register up to 10,000 unique combinations – quite a lot those days.


2. Three letter local prefix (1933 – 1950)


Demand for automobiles grew following the two World Wars, and in between the two wars, a new format was introduced in 1933 to meet the demand. The new format still consisted of six characters. However, the local prefix has been changed to three letters, while the random number sequence has been reduced to three numbers, e.g., ABC 123.


3. Reversed three letter local prefix (1951 – 1962)


The spike in demand following the end of World War II necessitated a new format, and it came in the form of a simple flip – the random three number sequence is now in front, while the three letter local prefix is at the back, e.g., 123 ABC.



4. Suffix System (1963 to 1982)


Alas, the third format barely lasted a year before the sequence was exhausted. It paved the way for the introduction of the suffix system, which promises over a million combinations. The new format consisted of seven characters divided into three sections – a letter (year of production), a three number sequence (random), and another three letters (the local prefix) – e.g., A 123 BCD


5. Prefix System (1983 to 2000)


The previous sequence last for just two decades, and the replacement was another flip. The single letter denoting the year of production has been moved front the front to the back, e.g., 123 BCD A.